Politics and entertainment have always overlapped. But at Politicon, a two-day conference held in Pasadena, California, they become one.
The event, which drew in about 10,000 people in its third year, has been deemed by some as “the Comic-Con for politics” or “Coachella of politics” because of its ability to put politicians, pundits, entertainers, activists, media personalities and political junkies all in one place at one time.
Politicon creator Simon Sidi, a British-born rock-show producer, said he created the conference in 2015 with the intent of bringing together the two worlds of entertainment and politics.
“Politicon is a nerd fest,” he told CNN. “We’re here to entertain people who love the world of politics.”
Much has changed since the first Politicon. Donald Trump — a former reality TV star — is President; Hollywood’s thirst for politically inspired shows and movies has only grown; and the media is now filled with a frenzy of politics stories on a daily basis, including speculation on celebrities’ political aspirations: This year alone two big entertainers — actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and musician Kid Rock — have expressed interest in running for political office. Some say they feel the line between entertainment and politics has become even more blurred.
“Trump is sort of the perfect culmination of the melding between television, film and politics,” said San Luis Obispo Mayor and Politicon attendee Heidi Harmon.
At Comic-Con, attendees dress up as their favorite characters from comics, shows and movies. At Politicon, attendees also dress up — but as their favorite presidents, or in attire that pays homage to their favorite political figures or commentators.
Canadians Alex Ishkov, Brandon Firla and Richard Kenyon, for example, came dressed as George Washington, Abe Lincoln and founding father Alexander Hamilton.
“Absolutely,” the three said almost in unison when asked if they feel the lines between politics and entertainment have blurred.
“The President was a TV star before he was a president,” Ishkov said.
“He’s turned the White House into an extension of ‘The Apprentice,'” Firla added.
Devin Dudley, 18, trekked from Michigan sporting a T-shirt with a collage of conservative firebrand Tomi Lahren’s face.
“I got if off a website because I heard she was going to be here,” he told CNN. “I was looking for different types of merch, and I found this and said ‘I have to have this.’ I like that she’s very outgoing, she doesn’t hold back. She loves to talk about politics, just like I do. I might not agree with her about everything, but we do agree a lot.”
When asked whether he thinks entertainment and politics have overlapped more in 2017, he nodded.
“Oh yeah, for sure,” he said, noting that he thinks social media and the 2016 election helped bring the two worlds together. “There’s so much overlap. There’s concerts where artists say their opinions, events where celebrities talk about politics. They [politics and entertainment] are still distinct but they are definitely becoming more similar.”
As in years past, Politicon featured a mix of entertainers and political figures.
This year, Hollywood A-listers included actor America Ferrera, comedian Chelsea Handler, director and actor Rob Reiner, “Grey’s Anatomy” star Jason George, artist Charlamagne Tha God, Comedy Central’s Anthony Atamanuik (who impersonates Trump on “The President Show”), and “Veep” cast members Timothy Simons and Clea DuVall were all on hand to discuss various topics, including on panels titled “The Power Vote: Latinos Crucial Role in the 2018” and “Meet Veep.”
They sat alongside politicians — including Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar and California Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican, and Brad Sherman and Ted Lieu, who are Democrats — as well as political pundits and media personalities (CNN partnered up with Politicon on Saturday to take over Politicon’s Democracy Village stage).
Still, many at Politicon pointed out that politics and entertainment have always overlapped somewhat. For example, former President Ronald Reagan and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger were both movie stars before they became politicians. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, is a former “Saturday Night Live” comedian.
“You’ve always had entertainers run for office,” Clay Aiken, a singer, “Celebrity Apprentice” runner-up and former congressional candidate, told CNN. “The only thing that’s different is that Donald Trump is more entertainer than he is leader. … Really, entertainment has always sort of guided politics, too. The question to me is really, who leads who? Does what happens in DC guide what goes on in TV and movies? Or does what happens in TV and movies end up pushing what happens in DC? I think this year you’ve seen more of Washington pushing Hollywood than the other way around. This year Hollywood’s following DC more than it has in the past.”
Sidi agrees that politics and entertainment have always gone hand in hand. But he said there’s definitely an increased interest in the overlap this year, noting the growth of Politicon itself.
“There is an appetite for this stuff,” he said.